Shade and Shadow

© 2000 by E. Liddell


Back to Dark Kingdom Home | E.Liddell's DK Stories | Stayka's DK Stories | Other DK Stories


Author's Notes:

It came to me recently that I've never given much attention to Prisma and Sapphire and their relationship, or to what life on Nemesis must have been like in the universe of the Crystal Weaver Saga. And so I wrote this.

The age that Prisma gives for herself is consistent with her being twenty-two during the R season, which means that she was born in 1985 and could have looked up her younger self during her trip to the past with Rubius. And yes, in the dub, Katse does declare herself the eldest sister, and Prisma declares herself older than Avery. I forget whether Birdie's age is expressed or implied.

Of course, I don't own most of the characters -- they belong to Naoko Takeuchi and Toei and a bunch of other people whose identities I don't remember if I ever knew them. The fragments of dialogue that I stole from "Brotherly Love" (North American episode 79) presumably belong to DIC. [Insert standard request not to sue here.]

Oh, and I know the spellings "Rubius" and "Katse" are non-canonical, but they're the ones I used when the characters were mentioned in other Crystal Weaver stories, and I try to be consistent.

I do love feedback, people! Email eliddell@despammed.com -- but be aware that my response is going to come back dated nineteen-eighty-something, for reasons I'm not going to get into right now. Also, I sometimes can't answer messages coming from aol.com.


Sapphire stirs and half-wakes as I sit up and swing my legs over the edge of the bed. He's never been a heavy sleeper. There have been times in his life when not reacting instantly to the rustle of cloth or a shift in the air currents in the room would have meant his death, and although we live a much more relaxed life here, I doubt the habit of alertness will ever leave him.

"I'll be back in a bit, dear," I whisper. He makes a motion that might have been a nod if his pillow weren't in the way and allows himself to slide back into a deeper sleep.

My gait is awkward as I head for the bathroom. No matter. Another month of this, perhaps, and I'll be free of it for the rest of my life. We decided before this child was conceived that he would be our last. Not that there was much of a decision to make. By the time that this one is old enough to be out on his own, my fertile years will be over, or close to it. Nothing can change that verdict. And I flatly refuse to try raising more than one Crystal Weaver child at a time. As Opal demonstrated, one is enough of a handful.

The face reflected in the mirror above the sink is unlined -- it's remarkable what a really good moisturizer can do -- but there are a sprinkling of gray hairs visible above it, and the skin around the eyes has darkened to such an extent that I look like a raccoon. Those last'll go away when I don't have to get up in the middle of the night anymore, but the gray is there to stay. It's impossible to find a dye that matches my natural green, so it's either allow myself to go gray or turn brunette.

I am forty-three years old. That's probably about the same age that my husband was when I met him, although he looked, and still does look, like a twenty-something. But even Sapphire doesn't know his age for certain. The Nemisians didn't keep those sorts of records. All they ever recorded at a child's birth was his pedigree, for use in the Doom Phantom's breeding program.

But I'm not sure that they even bothered with that, in Sapphire's case. My husband was an afterthought, you see. Nemesis's last-born, the only child conceived after the objectives of the breeding program had been achieved. And he was always overshadowed by his brother, the elder Prince. Wise Man's figurehead, scapegoat, and right hand. The Lord of Nemesis. Diamond.

Let me tell you how it was...

We were only children when Rubius brought us to Nemesis for the first time. Well, all right, not children, but still young and impressionable. And silly, to leave a relatively comfortable middle-class life for the hardships of the Dark Moon. I was seventeen, Katse was eighteen, Avery fifteen, and Birdie only thirteen, and all of us except poor little Birdie were really, really infatuated with Rubius. Despite his terrible hair and worse personality. He had the typical Crystal Weaver glamour, and he always was a pretty good liar. He'd been courting us for weeks, teasing us, leading us on, and by that time, he had us pretty thoroughly snared.

He didn't tell us what we were getting into, of course. Rubius might have been a right royal bastard, but he was no fool. His spoke in honeyed tones of a place that we would be happy, free of the restrictions placed on us by our loving but overprotective parents. In that much, I suppose, he told the truth, but like all other Nemisians, he was a master of the arts of omission and subtle deception.

We emerged from a rather rocky teleport into a wild starlit assembly in a courtyard. Rubius had timed our arrival carefully. If the Nemisians had kept a calendar, the Night of Madness would have been the only holiday marked on it. Declared by Wise Man at irregular intervals, it was a sort of combination masked ball, and... well... not quite a mass orgy, but an opportunity for people to get intimately acquainted with others to whom they normally wouldn't have given the time of day. If Nemesis had had a day, that is. I suspect it was originally intended to assist the breeding program by making people pair off across family lines, but by the time I got there, there was no such thing as a real family on the Dark Moon.

I remember...

We had no masks, the four of us, and anyway, Birdie was too young to participate even by Nemisian standards. Rubius may have been a slime, but he did realize that and took her inside the citadel immediately -- to infuse her with energy from the Dark Crystal that was the Doom Phantom's prison, but we didn't know that then. When he re-emerged from Prince Diamond's citadel (but none of us had yet met the prince, either), he was alone. I barely noticed. Avery and Katse and I had all stolen discarded masks from a pile intended, we discovered later, for the use of the Droid servitors, and were mingling with the crowd.

Everyone was moving so fast that it took me a while to figure out that there were only a couple of dozen young men and women in the courtyard with us. Far more men than women, truth be known, almost twice as many, but it seemed that same-sex couples were allowed to dance together. Or was that short, slender figure a man? I was so fascinated by the strangers that I didn't notice when Rubius took Katse by the arm and swept her into the dance. Avery and I stayed together, holding hands and staring around and giggling nervously, until I spotted the two young men over by the wall. Well, perhaps not so young. How can I possibly know such a thing when they didn't themselves?

"Why don't we ask them to dance?" I suggested to my sister.

"Do you think they would?" she asked.

I shrugged. "Can't hurt to try," I said. "Rubius is so busy with Katse that I doubt he'll even bother to look at us middle sisters again tonight, and I, for one, don't want to stand here looking like an idiot. Let's go!"

I'd already chosen the shorter, darker man as my target. The taller one, with the pale hair, looked intimidating. Since meeting Malachite, I've sometimes wondered whether there's some genetic or magical link between white hair, megalomania, and an intimidating mien in male Crystal Weavers... But I digress. Avery made it almost halfway to the silent pair before chickening out, pulling her hand out of mine, and retreating back into the crowd. Coward, I thought, and pressed onward.

It wasn't until I was standing opposite him, that slender blue-haired man, that I began to have second thoughts. We stared at each other for several moments, neither of us speaking.

In the end, he was the one who broke the silence. If I'd had to do it, I think we'd still be waiting.

"Emerald, if this is your idea of a joke, I'm not laughing, although I admit that it's a very good illusion."

"I'm not Emerald," I said. And whoever she is, I don't think he likes her much.

He gave me another long, unfathomable look. "Maybe not, at that. She'd never be able to say that to me without throwing in an insult. It's still a really good illusion, though. I don't recognize you at all. Who are you?"

"My name is Prisma," I said.

"Prisma. That isn't even a proper name! But I suppose we are supposed to be anonymous tonight, those of us who can pull it off. I wish I could."

"Look," I said, "I just came over here to ask you if you wanted to dance, but if you'd rather not, I can leave."

"Dance..." He said the word as though it was in a foreign language.

"You know, move rhythmically to music?" I said.

He snorted. "Yes, I understand that much. It's just that I was never all that good at it. Well, why not?" He turned to the white-haired, white-clad man beside him. "Do you mind?"

The other waved a dismissive hand. "I think I can handle Emerald if she shows up again. Go ahead and have a good time, little brother. And be sure to bring her back and introduce her to me when you figure out who she really is."

The blue-haired man extended his hand to me. I took it, and we entered the flow of the dance.

I don't think he really was a bad dancer. It's just that the music was fast-paced, and he's always been a thoughtful, deliberate sort of man, so he got a half-beat behind ever so often. After a near-collision with another couple, he pulled me off to the side again.

"I did my best to warn you," he said, but his mouth, just visible below the lower edge of his mask, was smiling. "Can I offer you something to drink, as a consolation prize?"

"That would be lovely," I said. And I was smiling, too, as he led me to the refreshment table.

It wasn't the normal sort of grape wine that you get on Earth. Instead, the quarter-glass of liquid that my dance partner poured for me was almost black, although it became obvious that it was really red after he'd diluted it with water. The taste was acidic, and I decided that I didn't really like it. Even the few mouthfuls that I drank made me feel sick and dizzy. And it was cold. I hadn't noticed that while we'd been dancing, but it was very cold.

"Are you all right?" my escort asked.

"C-cold," I mumbled. "T-take me ins-s-s-" Suddenly, I couldn't get the word out. I leaned dizzily against the blue-haired man, listening to the roaring in my ears and a swirling confusion of familiar voices.

"Prince Sapphire, did she actually drink any of that?"

"A little bit. Why?"

"Then you've poisoned her. She's one of the ones I brought here from Earth tonight. I haven't had time to expose them all to the Dark Crystal yet."

"From Earth? But..." The blue-haired man's voice was filled with... could it be awe? "And you let her loose here? Rubius, you idiot!"

Then there was darkness around me, as I experienced my second teleport of the day. I pressed myself against my new friend's chest, trying to warm myself with his body heat. Non-space is cold, and the room where we emerged was worse. In fact, waves of cold seemed to radiate from the huge dark thing at the center of it. I was so cold that I was going numb. I couldn't feel the ground under my feet -- assuming that there was anything there at all. The Crystal's power always was so thick in that room that you could just about walk on it.

"Prisma."

I looked up into his face. For a moment, I thought I was looking into three concerned blue eyes. And I don't mean that Sapphire has a power deformity similar to his brother's -- I mean that I was seeing double. Things were swimming in and out of focus.

"Prisma, you have to touch the Crystal. If you don't, you'll die."

"The Crys..."

"Yes, the Crystal. Here, let me help you." He gently pried my hand off his shoulder and extended it toward the dark mass. I flinched -- the cold was so intense in that direction that it almost burned -- but he was stronger than I was. Then my fingers were pressed against something smooth and frigid, like ice, only it wasn't ice, because the warmth of my hand should have melted ice, and this thing wasn't melting, the cold from it was spreading to my fingers and through my hand and up my arm and oh, why did I listen to Rubius and why had I wanted to follow him and what was this horrible place that he'd brought us to and was I going to die here and...

I felt much better when I woke up. Strange, and maybe a bit brittle, but not cold and sick and no more confused than was to be expected under the circumstances. I was lying on a narrow bed in a small grey room that I had never seen before, fully dressed in clothing that I had never seen before either, but which felt exactly right somehow. Black and green -- I liked black and green (except that you never did before, whispered a voice somewhere deep in my mind, but I ignored it). It made me look older and more sinister, I decided, examining my reflection in the mirror bolted to the back of the door, as did the black crescent on my forehead. I didn't wonder why the marking was there, either. It hadn't been there before, but now it was, and that was right and proper, too.

Someone knocked on my door. "Prisma?"

"Yeah, what is it?"

"Are you almost ready? Rubius will be here any second. We're to be presented to Prince Diamond, remember?"

"Right, of course. The prince." The truth was that I didn't remember at all, but given what had happened to me the night before, that was hardly surprising. That blue-haired man... I wanted to see him again, but I didn't even know his name, which might make it just a little difficult to find him.

"Prisma? By all the powers of darkness, what are you doing in there?" The door slammed open, revealing my sister Katse, who was dressed in something that looked vaguely like a tutu. Her eyes were feverishly bright, and I got the impression that she hadn't slept at all. Actually, she had, or at least the Dark Crystal had knocked her out the way it had done with the rest of us, but she hadn't had as much recovery time as Avery and Birdy and I, because Rubius hadn't taken her there until long after the rest of us had been... processed. He'd been too busy doing other things with her.

Poor Katse. She had managed to convince herself that Rubius loved her, when in fact he'd only been trying to exert his control over her -- that, and slake his frustration over the fact that no true Nemisian woman would have him anymore. Not that there had been enough of them to go around in the first place.

Nine women, seventeen men. None of them old enough to remember the time when their ancestors lived free in the sunlight, despite the putative immortality of Crystal Weavers. There had been over a hundred Enclavites in the first generation, but Wise Man had ground them down until they'd died of disease or despair or taken their own lives, leaving only their children to inhabit that dark, empty world. Eight generations had lived and died there while the Earth was locked in ice, never seeing the sun.

But that didn't change the fact that Rubius had lied to us, that he and most of the other Nemisians considered mere humans like my sisters and me to be little more than animals or Droids, that he'd used us and trapped us and brought us here to a place that we would never be able to summon the will to return from. I just wish I'd been thinking clearly enough to see that then. Not that it would have helped. I could never have broken the Dark Crystal's influence -- not even over myself, much less over my sisters. I was never that strong.

Rubius came in a few minutes later and rounded up my sisters and me, all in our new clothing, although Birdie was still wearing a robe over her pseudo-bathing suit back then, and led us on a tortuous trip through the citadel. He did that deliberately, I'm pretty sure, in the interest of confusing and demoralizing us, since I learned later that there were several shorter routes. Well, either that or his drug hangover was so bad that he'd completely lost his sense of direction. I vaguely remembered that he'd looked kind of stoned when he'd picked us up the night before... We must have spent an hour tramping deserted corridors before we arrived at the main entrance to the throne room.

And there we waited. And waited. And waited. Rubius may have been an adequate player of the intimidation game, but Prince Diamond was a master, and I don't think he was all that pleased with his subordinate for bringing us here. Wise Man must have been ecstatic, but even he couldn't sway the pale Prince when he got into one of his moods.

We must have been standing there for another hour or more when the great portals finally swung open to admit us. Birdie was beginning to wilt by that time, and Avery and I did our best to support her unobtrusively as the five of us moved forward. I kept my eyes on the floor as we approached the throne, nearly running into Rubius's back when he stopped moving and bowed respectfully.

"Prince Diamond, may I have the honor of presenting the Ayakashi sisters: Katse, Prisma, Avery, and Birdie?"

I dropped to my knees as my name was called, head still bowed.

"Prisma Ayakashi."

I knew that voice! It was my blue-haired friend. And that was what finally convinced me to look up.

My gaze was first captured by the man who lounged on the throne, a wineglass in his hand. I was later to learn that he almost always had one with him. It made sense, I suppose. Certainly, if my mind hadn't been clouded by the Doom Phantom's influence, Nemesis would have driven me to drink. But it wasn't his wineglass that I was watching. It was his face. I knew those purple eyes. I had seen them watching me from behind a mask last night. Little brother, he had called my blue man. And if this was Prince Diamond, that meant that my friend was...

"I'm glad to see that you're well."

He was standing to the right of the throne, his posture casual, hands clasped together at waist level. He wore the same costume as he had the night before -- the blue, crystal-studded jacket and white trousers. Only his mask was missing. And it was when I saw his unmasked face that all thoughts of Rubius fled my mind for good. I'd noticed that all the other people here were gorgeous, but something in my friend's self-effacing manner had led me to believe that he would look... well... ordinary. Instead, he was as beautiful as his brother. Just not quite so... I don't know. Flamboyant?

Anyway, the woman standing on the other side of the throne certainly made up for him. Where on Earth -- no, where on Nemesis -- had she gotten that costume? The fan was just a bit much. Not that I suppose I had the right to say anything, not when you consider what I was wearing. Come to think of it, I don't think any of the Nemisians except for Diamond and Sapphire had anything remotely resembling clothes sense. I mean, Rubius wore an outfit that looked like it belonged in some B-movie about punk urban commandos, and then there was Emerald, with her fan, and you really don't want to know what Lapis thought of as casual wear. Believe me. And the others were just as bad or worse.

I licked my lips. "Thank you, my lord."

"My name is Sapphire," he corrected gently.

And we stood there staring at each other like a pair of idiots while Diamond watched indulgently and Emerald hid her face behind her fan. Sapphire's face was perfectly expressionless, but there was... something... in his eyes. To this day, I don't know what to call it. It wasn't love, not then, or even affection, but it was more than just interest, and it kept my eyes riveted to him long after I should have looked away. I don't know what he saw in me to keep him doing the same, but I'm glad he did.

"Perhaps I should have assigned her to you as a protege," the Prince of Nemesis remarked, at last, to his brother. I couldn't help but notice the exchange of glances between the two of them, and the fact that Emerald was glaring daggers at Sapphire from behind her fan. She was always so incredibly jealous of my future husband, and I never was quite sure why. Unless she actually believed the stories about Diamond and Sapphire, and to do that she'd have to be even stupider than I thought she was -- and I thought she was pretty stupid. The Enclavites had been inbred already when Wise Man had brought them to Nemesis, and the situation since then had only become worse. Hence Emerald, and those like her.

I don't remember anything about the rest of our presentation to the Throne. I only had eyes for Sapphire, even though he had transferred his attention to his brother when the latter had spoken, and now seemed to be completely ignoring me.

But that was the easy part of the day.

"You stupid little fool!"

The sound of the slap echoed through the room like a gunshot. It was so sudden that I didn't even feel the pain until Rubius had turned away again, muttering curses and derogatory opinions of my intelligence and competence. Rubius was difficult enough to get along with at the best of times, but Rubius with a drug hangover after he'd been delegated to teach elementary magic to a gaggle of recently enhanced human girls was impossible. None of us could do anything right. Even Katse was shooting him these wounded "why me?" looks, and Birdy had already fled in tears. And I was beginning to feel very much like doing the same, but I didn't want to give the bastard the satisfaction. How could I ever have thought I was in love with Rubius?

So instead of running away, I gave him the coldest look that I could manage, then turned and walked away with what I hoped would look like a slow and confident stride.

I was already beginning to adapt to life on Nemesis.

I was hopelessly lost the moment I left the training room, but I was too proud to ask a passing Droid for directions, and so I found myself wandering deeper and deeper into the citadel. Some of the hallways weren't even lit, and I had to grope my way along in the dark. Large portions of the citadel, which had been built to house all of the original settlers, were now empty. And so two dozen Nemisians rattled around in this huge empty place like so many peas in a pod the length of my arm -- What were peas? The question occurred to me suddenly as I walked along. Try though I might, I couldn't dredge up a corresponding image any clearer than a blob of green. Peas were something to eat, weren't they? So why couldn't I remember what they tasted like? Come to think of it, I couldn't remember many tastes at all, just those of the nauseating lichen-based stuff I'd eaten at lunch, and the wine Sapphire had given me last night.

I thought about that for quite a while, paying even less attention to where I was going than I had been before. That was why it took me a little while to realize that I'd left the deserted area of the citadel and returned to the inhabited parts. The halls were well-lit here, and there were carvings on the walls. No carpet, though. Carpet -- in fact, any kind of fabric -- was a valuable thing on Nemesis, since it all had to be conjured. I'm told that Prince Diamond's bedroom was carpeted, and Sapphire had a couple of small rag rugs in his quarters, but other than that, I don't think I saw any kind of floor covering in all the years that I spent there.

There was a flash of blue light from within one of the open doorways that lined the corridors, and, curious, I went to investigate.

Inside, Sapphire was seated cross-legged on the floor, his eyes closed. A handful of dust lay piled in front of him, and something small and flat and sparkling lay on top. The blue light was coming from him. As I watched, he slowly extended one arm in front of him, poising his hand over the pile of dust. The fine grit swirled up with the ferocity of a sandstorm, then condensed itself slowly into a humanoid form, lying prone on the floor, which gradually took on color and texture and solidity, until a Droid lay there, unmoving.

I made to step through the door, but was brought up short by something invisible that felt like a thin, springy membrane. It was a lot tougher than that would suggest, though, and I couldn't seem to push through it.

Sapphire sighed, the first sound that he had made, and sagged a bit, lowering his arm. He didn't open his eyes until I reached out and knocked on the doorframe, though.

"Prisma?"

"Well, it isn't Emerald, anyway," I replied.

Sapphire smiled. "Something for which I am infinitely grateful." He made a chopping gesture with his left hand. "There. Come on in. Sorry about the wards, but I can't be too careful. What brings you here?"

I matched his rather melancholy grin as I stepped through the now-open door. "I decided to go for a walk."

"And found my home away from home. I wonder..." His smile became less melancholy for a moment.

I wasn't quite sure what that meant, and groped for something else to say. "Do you make all of the Droids here?"

"All of the new ones, yes. No one else in our generation has the technical skills -- well, except for Diamond, and he has other duties. And Wise Man." His smile vanished when he spoke that name. "I wouldn't put anything past Wise Man. But you can't really say that he's of our generation. He's much older."

"Wise Man?" I couldn't remember anyone named Wise Man, and I had been here, now, for... how long? Only a single night? Surely it must have been longer than that!

Sapphire gave me an odd look. "That's right, you haven't met him yet, have you? Well, when you do, be wary. He's a good person to have as a friend, but people he doesn't like tend to meet with unexpected accidents."

I hesitated. "Why do I get the feeling that you don't like this Wise Man person any more than you like Emerald?"

Sapphire nibbled on his lower lip for a moment. "You're asking for a great deal of trust, you know. That isn't a commodity easily earned, here, but... somehow, I just feel at ease, talking to you. It's very strange." He cast a reflective glance down at the motionless Droid before continuing. "No, I don't like Wise Man. I'm not really sure why. It's just a feeling I have. But I think he's a danger to all of us. Especially Diamond. I used to have nightmares, when I was young, about the two of them killing each other..."

I watched the play of emotion across his face, only then realizing just how much he loved his brother. His devotion to Diamond was absolute, and anyone else who wanted to be close to him would have to take second place to the pale Prince. That tore at something deep inside of me.

I hadn't realized, until then, that I was falling in love with him.

Do I really want to be second?

Do I really have a choice?

"Hey," I said, "I'll help you keep an eye on Wise Man if you help me get Rubius away from my sister. Okay?"

He looked up at me, and there was something in his expression that I hadn't seen there before. Hope.

"It's a deal," he breathed, and reached out to clasp my hand.

Mind you, I didn't much like the plan that he eventually came up with.

"But it doesn't solve anything!" I remember saying. "I want Katse to see through that bastard, not just break up with him!"

Sapphire shrugged. "If you can come up with a way to do that, on this little notice, I'd certainly like to hear it. The problem is that your sister doesn't want to 'see through' Rubius, and Rubius doesn't want her to 'see through' him either, and he's exerting all his charisma and what little hypnotic ability he possess to keep her from noticing what he really is. I don't think that even that video recording I have of him visiting an Earth prostitute would convince her."

There was a little tiny voice inside my head, urging me to lash out and tear his plan to shreds. And then tear him to shreds. Why was it so easy for me to hate and hurt? I hadn't always been like this, had I?

Memories slipped and slid and turned to mush inside my head. It infuriated me that I remembered so little of my life before coming here. A few days earlier, I'd tried to tell Sapphire about Earth, but I'd lashed out at him in frustration when I realized that I remembered only a scattering of images. He'd just sat there and borne my anger. Afterwards, when I'd calmed down, I'd sworn to myself that I would never do that to him again. And so far, I'd kept my promise. Just barely. There was enough pain in him already. I could see it in his eyes. He didn't deserve to have me adding to it.

I looked up at him now, where he was seated cross-legged on the bed, and shrugged. We were in his private rooms, such as they were. A minuscule study overflowing with papers and a bedroom scarcely larger, furnished only with a narrow single bed and a battered wooden chest that had to have come here with the first settlers. I sat on the floor because there were no chairs, unless I wanted to unearth the desk chair in the study from beneath its pile of books and papers. All that paper, and the rug on which I now sat, were the only touches of luxury in the room, the only indications that it belonged to the younger prince of Nemesis.

"If I had a better idea, I'd already have told you about it." I admitted. "It may not be quite as bad as it seems. Katse's always been hot-tempered, and if anything, she's been getting worse lately."

Sapphire nodded. "There's something about the Dark Crystal's energy that tends to make our bad qualities worse. It's a measurable magical phenomenon. Unfortunately, there's nothing that can be done about it. We need the Crystal's energy to survive."

"I already know that." In fact, I'd had an object lesson in it when I'd first arrived, with the wine that he'd unwittingly offered me. The red liquid had been so full of negative energy that it had almost sent my unaccustomed body into shock. "Sorry," I added, realizing that I'd been short with him again.

"It's all right." But his smile was sad. "You don't even raise your voice to me, much less..." He let the sentence trail off, but his hand rose to a dark blotch on his face. I'd thought that it was just dirt, but on closer study, it looked more like a bruise.

"Who gave you that?" It felt good to have someone to aim all that repressed anger and hatred at. Whoever it was, they're going to get a good thrashing as soon as I'm done here...

Sapphire mumbled something incoherent.

"What was that?"

He sighed. "It was Lapis, all right? Don't make an issue of it, please. I don't want you to come to Wise Man's attention."

"That bitch..." There was something about Lapis that made me very, very uncomfortable. Of all the people I've ever met, there are only two that I've hated more than her. One was her robed master, who gave me the creeps. The other was Rubius. "This isn't the first time, is it?" I asked, cued by something in his eyes.

"No. It doesn't happen often -- Diamond protects me most of the time -- but she's been doing it as long as she's been here."

Diamond. Damn. The very mention of his older brother made Sapphire's eyes light up with something very close to worship. As usual, seeing that hurt. And, thanks to the Dark Crystal's influence, pain made me angry.

"But why you?" I asked, seeking an outside focus for my anger again. "Why couldn't she go after that bastard Rubius, or Emerald, or one of the others? Why you?" It just seemed so unfair.

"Because I'm not strong enough to stop her. I can't use attack magic unless I'm scared out of my wits."

The rueful admission caught me by surprise.

"It's a handicap I've gotten used to," Sapphire added softly. "I'm a good artificer -- it's easier for me to work on things that I can touch, for some reason -- and most of the others realize that they need me. Lapis will figure it out, eventually, too. I hope."

"She won't need to," I said. "From now on, I'll protect you."

The blue-haired prince shook his head. "I appreciate the sentiment, Prisma, but you'd never survive if you challenged Lapis. You and your sisters will never be any match for a full-fledged Crystal Weaver, not even together, and I..." He hesitated, and seemed to be struggling with himself. "I don't want to see you hurt," he said at last. "Please don't do anything stupid."

If only he hadn't put it that way... but his wording annoyed me. And what in hell was a Crystal Weaver, anyway?

"We were talking about Katse and Rubius," I snapped.

Sapphire sighed. "So we were. I think I can set it up so that it looks like she's been going after Bixbite. He's an easy one to manipulate -- almost as stupid as Emerald. It's a shame that Rubius would never believe that your sister is a lesbian. I'd love to set Emerald up for something like this, and everyone hates her so much that she's a really easy target."

I had to admit, I wouldn't have minded setting Emerald up myself. All the Nemisians except Sapphire were condescending towards us four human latecomers, but Emerald turned disdain into an art form.

"It also helps that Bixbite is Lapis's bed-toy of the moment, but she's so embarrassed about it that she won't admit it publicly, and won't let him do it, either." Sapphire was looking past me, staring off into infinity -- or at least, at the bare rock of the room's far wall. "Yes. It'll take a few days to set up, but it ought to work." Then he paused, glancing at me. "You look uncomfortable, Prisma. What's wrong?"

I shrugged. "Uncomfortable" was exactly the word, and I couldn't understand why I felt that way.

"It's just... isn't there any way we can do this without making my sister look so bad?" Yes, that was part of it, I was certain. But there was still some other uneasiness inside me.

Sapphire gave me a curious look. "I thought you would be glad to see her taken down a notch or two. You seem like such rivals..."

"And you and your brother seem really cold to each other," I said. "I don't think I've ever heard you call him anything other than 'Your Highness' or 'Prince Diamond'. But I can tell how much you love him, and I know that if you saw him making a fool of himself with Emerald, you'd do whatever you had to to bring him to his senses. Even if it hurt him and made him totally despise you."

"We were closer once, when we were children." Sapphire was still looking at me, but I could tell, from the faint smile on his face, that he was seeing someone else. "Back before Wise Man started taking such an interest in him. But then our uncle died, and Diamond became the ruling Prince, even though he was barely adult, and Wise Man became his adviser, just as he's been to every other ruler of Nemesis for as long as we've existed as a people. After that, my brother had so many duties, and I was busy learning magical technologies from old Chrysoprase, and we just sort of drifted apart. Or that's what Wise Man wanted it to look like."

"Are you trying to tell me that Wise Man is controlling your brother?" It sounded completely preposterous to me. I couldn't claim that I knew Diamond very well, but he hadn't struck me as the sort of person who would be easily ruled.

"Something is," Sapphire said grimly. "Don't you ever feel it? That sensation of something watching you and gloating? Feeding off your anger and your pain?"

"That's ridiculous!" And yet, and yet...

Sapphire tilted his head to one side. "I don't think you're quite as deeply tangled in its web as the others, yet. Prisma, will you do me a favor? Take your earrings off."

"My earrings? What does that have to do with anything?"

"Take them off, and see."

"Of all the stupid..." But my hands still rose to my ears, although I've never felt so reluctant to remove a piece of jewelry. My fingers shook as I took off first one, then the other. But, oddly, once they were resting in the palm of my hand, I felt more clear-headed than I had in days.

I balled my hand into a fist around the crystal shards. "What the... ?"

Sapphire raised his left hand to the corresponding ear, drawing attention to the fact that he wore no ornaments there. "I don't know. Whatever the spell is that's on them, it's fiendishly subtle and complex, well beyond my ability to unravel. The mental confusion may even be just a side effect of the real spell. Still, I think that they're a pretty sure indicator that there's something wrong here." He bit his lip, and added, "I just wish I could convince Diamond to take his off. Maybe then he'd listen to me."

I reached out and put my hand on his knee. "It'll be all right." I hope.

The hollow, empty look in his eyes didn't change, but he placed his hand over mine. "You almost make me believe you. How very strange."

"It will be all right," I repeated firmly. "I'll make it be all right, if I have to."

"I wish I had your strength." Those trapped, empty, haunted eyes... Gods, couldn't Diamond see how much his brother was hurting? Or didn't he care?

Sapphire straightened his legs, dislodging my hand, and rose to his feet with slow, deliberate grace, then bent down to help me to my feet.

"I don't think we'd better see each other for the next little while," he said. "It wouldn't do for Wise Man or the others to see us getting too friendly. I don't want to see you get hurt." But his hand lingered in mine, and I could tell that he liked the idea no more than I did.

"You'll tell me when you're ready to carry out the next part of our plan?" I asked.

"Of course. Keep an eye on my brother for me, whenever you can."

"Of course," I echoed, and squeezed his hand. I didn't want to let go -- in fact, I wanted to grab him and kiss him hard enough to make his eyes roll back in his head -- but I could tell that doing something like that to him right now would just push him away from me. He wasn't ready yet -- but one day, he would be.

I hoped.

Once on the outside of the door, with it firmly closed between us, I stood in a sort of daze, staring down at the earrings in my hand. That turned out to be a mistake.

I didn't realize she was there until I heard that horrible laugh. Gods. I would rather have spent several hours listening to someone scrape their fingernails back and forth over a chalkboard than be confronted with Emerald's laugh even once.

"My, my, what have we here?" A red fan tapped my wrist, nearly making me drop the earrings. "The little mortal girl, returning from a tryst with Prince Sapphire. How very interesting."

I glared at her. "Prince Sapphire wanted to talk to me about Earth," I lied. "He seems to have an endless fascination with the subject."

Emerald smiled poisonously. "Oh, of course. Poor little Sapphire. He never has had the courage to visit Earth, so I suppose secondhand information is the best he can do."

"He's braver than you, bitch," I snapped, regretting it immediately as Emerald's face froze.

"So quick to defend him," she murmured. "You really are in love with him, aren't you? Well, listen to me, human trash. Sapphire isn't for the likes of you. He's Prince Diamond's brother, the last product of our proudest bloodline, and even if he feels the same way you do, which I doubt, Wise Man will never let him waste himself on you." And she let loose another one of those poisonous laughs of hers, then wandered off while I was still trying to get my ears to stop ringing.

I was left alone with my thoughts again, once more staring down at the earrings in my hand.

... human trash...

... he's the last product of our proudest bloodline...

... Sapphire isn't for the likes of you...

"Shut up, Emerald," I whispered savagely, and closed my hand into a fist around the earrings, leaving the pattern of the facets imprinted on my palm.

I dumped the earrings into the bottom of the small jewelry chest that I'd had one of the Droids make for me, and left them there. No one seemed to notice. Well, almost no one. I remember Lapis staring at me with more hostility than usual the next time I saw her, but she didn't say anything. There was no way to tell whether or not Wise Man had noticed, or, if so, what he thought.

I spent the next three days without seeing Sapphire. Three whole days! I thought I was going to die. Unrequited True Love notwithstanding, Sapphire was the only person on Nemesis I could really talk to anymore. Katse was too caught up in Rubius, Avery was beginning to see me as her nearest rival and treating me accordingly, and little Birdie was so depressed that she barely spoke, instead burying herself in the library for hours at a time.

I know I should have tried to help them, but how could I? They wouldn't listen to me. Not a word. Even Birdie, who was the only one of the three who wasn't now lashing out at me on sight, refused to take my advice and remove her earrings. They were beyond saving, much though I hated to admit it.

I was beginning to understand how Sapphire felt, and why he fought a losing battle of wits with Wise Man, with his brother's soul as the prize. It's very hard to let go of your loved ones, even when trying to hold on to them can only result in your being dragged down with them.

I sometimes wished that I'd never taken those damned earrings off. Blindness can be so much more comforting than the ability to clearly see how everything is falling apart around you.

I was alone in my room, sitting on my bed and staring into space, when Sapphire's summons finally came.

<<Prisma? Are you there?>>

"Sapphire?" I knew his voice was only inside my head, but I had no idea how to reply the same way. "Is that you?"

<<Yes. I had a bit of a hard time finding you -- you don't quite feel like one of us. Can you come to my lab after supper? I think they're finally ready, so this would probably be a good time to show you what to do.>>

"They?" This was just so very weird. I mean, I was sitting there on the edge of my bed, carrying on a conversation with thin air, but at the same time, it felt as though Sapphire were right there beside me, maybe even touching me. I wanted him to touch me so very badly...

<<You'll see. Look, I'm not strong enough to keep this up much longer. I'll see you tonight, all right?>>

"Yes," I whispered, but I knew that he was already gone. I could feel it.

I barely managed to eat anything that night. Granted, it didn't help that the bulk of my meal consisted of a block of something rubbery that I think must have involved slime mold. Food on Nemesis was always terrible, because even mushrooms don't grow easily when faced with perpetual darkness, subzero temperatures, and soil almost completely void of organic compounds. The Droids didn't care how bad the food was, because they were sustained by the energies of the Dark Crystal and thus didn't need to eat. The native Nemisians didn't care how bad the food was, because even the weakest of them could transform it into something else. But my sisters and I had to eat, and hadn't learned enough magic yet to change our food into something else and still have it remain edible, so we were stuck.

That was why no one was surprised when I rose from the table early and left the room. It took a lot of effort to avoid shooting shifty glances at everyone in the room, though. I mean, I knew no one was paying any attention to me, but it was hard to shake the case of conspirator-guilt I was developing.

It took me a little while to find my way through the citadel to the room where I'd seen Sapphire creating the Droid, mainly because I hadn't been paying much attention to my route the first time I had come this way. I made a couple of wrong turns and had to backtrack. It would all have been a lot easier if I'd been able to teleport, but I hadn't learned to do that, yet, either.

When I did eventually find the right place, Sapphire was waiting for me. Propped against the wall behind him were two things, roughly human-sized and -shaped but draped with white cloths that hid the finer details from me.

"So what's the plan?" I asked.

He didn't smile, but then, he so rarely did. "We're going to put on a little show for Rubius, using those." He waved a hand in the direction of the sheet-draped forms leaning against the wall. "If we're convincing enough, it should be a real blow to his ego."

I walked past him, over to the white-blanketed forms, and placed my hand on the covering that concealed them. "May I?"

Sapphire shrugged. "By all means."

I tugged at the sheet, and it slid down to puddle at my feet. Then I just stood, staring at what it had concealed.

"You killed her!" Okay, okay, it was a silly thing to say, but I was startled. The last thing I'd expected when I pulled on that cloth was to see a perfect replica of Katse staring back at me, vacant-eyed.

I think that was the first time that I ever heard Sapphire laugh. "It's just a doll, Prisma. It's never been alive."

"I think that maybe you'd better explain." It came out a little flatter than I had meant it to.

"Think of them as giant marionettes." The second doll, when he lifted the sheet off, turned out to be a perfect replica of Bixbite. Somehow, I wasn't surprised. "Look, we're trying to stage a meeting between your sister and her supposed paramour, somewhere that Rubius is going to see and interrupt it, right? Well, there's no way that I can create an illusion that'll look convincing to him unless he's actually touching me, and -- no offense -- but I doubt you can do much better. You haven't had your powers long enough to have learned that kind of delicate control. So we're going to have a little puppet show instead."

Now, he admitted to me, years later, that it was a ridiculously complex plan, and he'd cooked it up mainly to impress me. I suppose my acceptance of it at the time was a measure of how infatuated I was with him.

"It's just that it seems like a lot of work," I said, curiously reaching out to touch the Katse-doll's arm. It was warm and pliant and yielding, exactly as I would have expected if it had been a real person. "Why not just make Katse and Bixbite Droids?"

"Because the energy signatures would be completely wrong. Admittedly, Rubius might not think to check those under the circumstances, but I'm not willing to bet our success on the chance that we might get lucky. Here. You'll need this." And he handed me something that looked like a diadem, or maybe a hairband. I took it, a little dubious.

"What is it?"

"The controls. You're going to have to run the Katse doll while I handle Bixbite here."

"I don't understand." Which kind of seemed to be the theme for the evening.

"The headsets create a mental linkage between the wearer and the body of the corresponding doll so that you can manipulate it. That's also what's going to give them the right energy signatures -- you and I 'feel' enough like Katse and Bixbite to fool Rubius for a few minutes, I think. I admit, linking with one feels weird. I knew these were going to be throwaways, so I skimped on the internal details a lot, and they don't have much of a sense of touch outside of the hands and the face, and they can't smell or taste at all. But it's only going to be for a few hours at most."

Which left only one question. "What do I have to do?"

"You'd better sit down, first. Or even lie down, if you think you'll be more comfortable that way. It's difficult to maintain the balance of two different bodies at once." Sapphire had already slid down to a sitting position, leaning against the wall, and I quickly copied him. "Then just put the headset on. The linkage will activate by itself as soon a the contacts touch your skin."

I stared at the narrow band of dull metal with its inset crystals for a moment, then slowly slid it onto my head. There was a moment of dizziness, a feeling of falling... and then I was standing beside myself.

I glanced down at the green-haired woman who was slumped against the wall beside me. Was that what I looked like from the outside? What a very strange thought.

I tried to take a step forward, and stumbled.

"Steady." A hand caught at my elbow, but I could barely feel it, although there was a faint pressure. Just enough to tell me it was there. And... I inhaled deeply. No, I couldn't smell anything either.

"Do these things feel pain?" I asked Sapphire-as-Bixbite where he stood beside me.

"Not really. You may get a few twinges if really substantial damage gets done to it, but that's pretty much only a warning to tell you what you should be feeling. I figured it would be better that way, just in case Rubius got rough. Anyway, we're wasting time. Let's go."

I followed him out the door and along a series of hallways until we emerged into an area that looked vaguely familiar. We were somewhere near Rubius's quarters.

Sapphire nodded toward a curtained area of the wall. "That alcove will do, I suppose. Just a moment." He bent down and laid something on the floor. A fragment of crystal. "Now. Inside."

We entered the alcove together, Sapphire pausing to artfully disarrange the curtains so that it would be absolutely clear to anyone passing by in the hallway that there was someone inside.

"Now what?" I asked when he had gone for a few seconds without speaking or moving.

He shrugged. "We wait. I made sure to trip Rubius's intruder control wards on the way in here, so he should be along to investigate in a few minutes. The crystal I planted outside will give me a few seconds' warning when he decides to show up."

And so we stood and waited. I think it was only about ten minutes, but it seemed like forever. That didn't seem to disturb Sapphire -- he was leaning, at ease, against the back wall of the alcove -- but I was nervous, and shifting from foot to foot, and got uncomfortable fairly quickly, so it was a relief to me when Sapphire grabbed my arm and swung around to face me.

"He's coming?" I whispered in his ear.

"Yes," Sapphire murmured back. "Now, play along, please."

His hands -- or rather, those of the Bixbite doll, but at the moment they were one and the same -- rose to cup my face, and he bent down slightly. Another instant, and our lips would meet...

... and then Rubius had to barge in through the curtains and spoil it, damn him.

The three of us stared at each other for a moment. Then Sapphire tilted his head back slightly, so that he could give the illusion of looking down on Rubius despite the fact the red-head was a fraction taller than his doll body, and spoke.

"Excuse me, but this was a private conversation." The inflection he used was something that I would have expected from Prince Diamond, not his much quieter brother. I'd never have guessed that Sapphire was such a gifted actor.

"Exactly," Rubius snapped. "It was private. Katse, what the hell do you think you're doing here?" The expression in his eyes was compounded of two parts anger, one part injured pride, and one part... genuine hurt? So the son-of-a-bitch could feel pain after all. Good. He deserved it.

I just smiled at him. "I thought it would be obvious what I'm doing here."

His eyes narrowed. "Bitch."

"Oh, come now, is it my fault that you aren't enough of a man to satisfy a real woman?" I was really beginning to get into the spirit of things.

He said something so foul that my memory has mercifully blanked on it, and tried to slap me. Sapphire's arm came up to block it.

"Stay out of this, Bixbite," Rubius growled.

Sapphire shook his head. "Not a chance. She's no good to me if you batter her black and blue. Give it up, Rubius. Try with one of the others, if you like, but this one is mine."

"You'll regret this," Rubius said.

"Yes, yes, insert your Standard Rant Number One here, I've heard it all before, go away before I have to send you away," Sapphire said, all in one breath, with an airy wave of his hand. "Now, where were we?" he asked me.

I pretended to consider, then wrapped my arms around his neck. "About here, I think," I said, bringing my face up towards his.

Rubius made a sputtering sound, then let the curtain fall between us. Sapphire and I held our pose until we heard a door slam, a bit further down the hall. Then he pulled away from me.

"We'd better get back to our proper bodies," he said. "I don't know about you, but I'm beginning to feel a bit of a strain."

I nodded. I was starting to feel a bit woozy, but I never would have admitted it if he hadn't done so first. On Nemesis, that sort of thing is for the weak. But first...

"Why did you keep Rubius from hitting me?" I asked. "I thought you said these things couldn't feel pain."

"They can't. But if he had slapped you, and your sister hadn't had a bruise on her face the next time he saw her, he would have gotten suspicious."

"Oh," I said. And here I'd hoped that he'd just wanted to protect me. "How did you know he would stop short of beating you?"

"In all honesty? I didn't, not really. But Rubius is a coward. He enjoys abusing people who can't fight back, but if he's faced with someone who's strong enough to resist him..." Sapphire shrugged expressively. "If he'd known it was me, he still might have tried something, but he'd never take on Bixbite if he could help it. Prisma, are you all right?"

"C-cold," I stuttered. I wasn't certain when I'd started shaking, but now I couldn't stop. It was almost like a flashback to my first night on Nemesis -- the biting cold, and Sapphire's arm supporting me.

He grimaced as I leaned a little more of my weight on him, and said, "I should have known that you wouldn't have enough power to sustain a prolonged linkage this way. Here." Warmth seeped into me from the points of contact between us. "Do you think you can make it back to my lab now? I'm afraid I don't have the strength to teleport both of us."

"I'll try."

I don't remember much of the walk back to Sapphire's lab. I was too cold and too tired, and I doubt I would have gotten there at all without his arm around me, guiding me. Once we had arrived, I just stood there until he pulled my headset off and broke the link with the doll.

Being back in my own body was an inexpressible relief, but what was even better was that Sapphire, also back in his own skin again, pulled me into his arms where we sat on the floor, apparently trying to warm me with his body heat. I sighed and buried my face in the shoulder of his jacket.

"Prisma?"

"Mmphl?"

"I'm sorry."

That surprised me. I jerked my head up to take a look at him, but he was staring at the wall, his expression closed and his eyes, shadowed.

"Whatever for?" I asked, confused.

"Sloppy design. I should have built a power source into the controllers for the dolls. I wasn't thinking -- we all have deep enough magical reservoirs to power something like that for hours on end. I forgot that you're... different."

I snuggled back down against him. "I take that as a compliment, and anyway, no harm done."

"Prisma, I could have killed you." One hand rose to scrub at his face. "I... If it had been anyone else, I don't think I would care, but you're real to me in a way that hardly anyone else has ever been. I don't want to hurt you."

I reached up to capture that wayward hand and pull it back down.

"And you never could," I said firmly.

His arms tightened around me, and we stayed that way for several minutes, neither of us speaking. But at length, I felt Sapphire moving, preparing to stand up.

"Can you make it back to your room alone?" he asked. "I don't think it's a good idea for the two of us to be seen together just now."

I sighed. "Is there ever going to be a good time?"

"I doubt it."

And with that bald statement, we went our separate ways.

I staggered back into Rubius's section of the citadel, to my room, and collapsed across the bed. It was several minutes before I managed to muster the energy to tunnel in under the blankets, and I never did get my clothes off before I fell asleep.

I don't know how much later it was when the argument next door woke me up. I suspect it wasn't more than a couple of hours, because I still felt pretty much wiped. Damn, but I wish they would just shut up and let me go back to sleep. And then I came a little more awake, and I realized two things: that the noise was coming from Katse's room, and that the people arguing sounded like her and Rubius. Fallout from Sapphire's and my little play, then.

No matter how hard I concentrated, I couldn't hear exactly what they were saying, but Rubius sounded angry, and Katse, more afraid. Suddenly I was afraid, too. Rubius had been ready to hurt me when he thought I was Katse. What if he attacked her? There was no Sapphire-disguised-as-Bixbite to come to her rescue. Just me, and I doubted I could do much against Rubius, but still...

I was dragging myself out of bed when I heard Katse scream. Suddenly, adrenaline had washed away my exhaustion, and I was running out the door.

I reached Katse's room just in time to nearly have my nose flattened by Rubius, who was flinging the door open to make a Dramatic Exit. I didn't bother following him, though, because I could hear Katse crying, somewhere inside.

I walked -- well, more like staggered, really, because the adrenaline was draining away now that I knew he hadn't killed her -- through the open door. Katse was curled up in a fetal position on the bed. I sat down beside her and put my hand on her shoulder.

"Hey, there, big sis, are you all right?"

The response was immediate and violent.

"Don't touch me!" Katse sat up, slamming her knee into my side in the process. "Damn you, Prisma! I don't know how you did it, but I'm sure this is all your fault!" There was a red handprint on the side of her face. Evidently, Rubius had given her the slap he hadn't been able to deliver to me. "You were always jealous of me, you wanted Rubius for yourself, even though you wouldn't admit it, but I'm not going to give you the chance! He's mine, damn you!"

"I don't want him," I said mildly. "I don't even know what happened here."

"Liar!"

I should have seen it coming, but I was just too tired and befuddled to dodge anything. And so her open hand smashed into the side of my face. We were going to look like twins for a little while.

I just stared at Katse, ignoring the tears of pain that came to my eyes. I had wanted to save this from herself? This raving bitch? How stupid can you get?!

It's a shame I wasn't bright enough to realize that that wasn't me talking. The Doom Phantom wasn't having as easy a time strengthening its hold over me as it would have had had I been wearing my earrings, but it was there and it was working on shaping me into something it liked. And the first step in that shaping was the severance of all emotional ties, like those that bound sister to sister, brother to brother, parent to child. Lover to lover.

It's a shame I wasn't bright enough to see it.

"I take it that the results of our endeavor haven't exactly been unmitigated success."

I shut the door with a thump and collapsed into a sitting position on the floor beside his bed. "That's one way of putting it. She's trying to earn her way back into his good graces, and it looks like he eventually might let her. I just don't understand how she can be so blind..."

Sapphire sighed. With him sprawled out on the bed and me seated below him, I couldn't see the expression on his face, but I could guess what it looked like. I was becoming very attuned to his moods. "I'm sorry. You were right all along -- we needed to get her to see him for what he really is, not just break them up. This is my fault."

"Oh, stop blaming yourself! I went along with you. That makes me just as guilty."

Silence, for a moment. Then, "It's always difficult, trying to save people from themselves," Sapphire said.

"Yeah." And he would know, too. Hadn't he been trying to do just that for... how many years? "You know, I think what we both need is something to take our minds off our siblings."

"What would you suggest?"

I shrugged. "I wish I knew. If we were on Earth, I'd suggest a little shopping, dinner in a nice restaurant -- maybe a little dancing or a movie afterwards. But you don't have any of those things here, do you?"

"No." The bed quivered as he shifted position. "And I'd never have the nerve to go to Earth. These damned crescents... they're like brands. They make us immediately recognizable. And I'm so saturated with negative energy that I'd trip every magical alarm on the planet."

I snorted. "What magical alarms?" My memories of life on Earth were still hazy, but a few days without my earrings had done wonders in terms of bringing them back. "Sapphire, spells are about as common on Earth outside of the Crystal Palace as intelligent thoughts are in Emerald's head! How do you think Rubius gets away with it?"

"I guess I always assumed he used some sort of spell to hide himself," Sapphire admitted. "Something that I couldn't duplicate using an artefact. It's difficult to create set spells that adapt to changing circumstances. And anyway, even if it's unlikely that I'll be detected magically, there's still this damned mark on my forehead, which I'm not good enough of an illusionist to conceal. I suppose I could create something that would hide it for me, but it would take time --"

I shook my head. "That's the problem with you Nemisians -- you think that every problem has to be solved by using magic! Wouldn't it be easier just to wear a headband?"

Silence. I winced, thinking that I'd offended him. Then I heard a most delightful, unexpected sound.

Sapphire was laughing.

"You have me there," he admitted. "A headband. So very stupid and obvious. You're right, I do look to magic for the solutions to all of my problems. I guess there are disadvantages to being a magical technician. Just a second."

I heard him rummaging through something, possibly that massive old chest, and then he positioned himself in front of me.

"Well, what do you think?"

I shook my head. The black silk scarf he'd folded into a bandanna and tied across his forehead hid his crescent more than adequately, and he'd stripped his jacket off to reveal a paler blue shirt, but there was still a problem. "You're going to have to take those gloves off. Why do you wear them all the time, anyway? I thought that was more of a Negaverse thing." It did look cool, though. Maybe I should consider getting a pair myself...

He shrugged as he peeled them off. "I used to burn my hands a lot when my experiments went wrong. A pair of warded gloves seemed like a good investment of my time and energy. And when I was younger and more foolish, I used to think that Emerald's stupidity might be contagious, and I was afraid of catching it from her..."

I smiled. "Well, if anyone could make it contagious, it would be Emerald. Look, I'm going to have to go back to my room to change. I'll meet you back here in... twenty minutes?"

"I'll be waiting," he promised.

I ran back to my room, bowling over at least one Droid in the process. I have a date with Sapphire! Oh, neither of us had called it that, but hey, if the shoe fits...

But I had nothing to wear, damn it! I stared at the interior of my closet with dismay. The contents were limited to a couple of extra black feather boas, and the skirt and blouse I'd been wearing when I arrived here, which I'd chosen for their plainness and practicality. But I threw up my hands in resignation and put them on anyway. What choice did I have? My normal outfit would attract all sorts of attention on Earth, and attention was the last thing that we would want.

I didn't hurry back to Sapphire's rooms quite as quickly as I'd left them. I guess I was afraid he would have changed his mind, or something, or that he would change it when he saw me in such drab, modest clothing. But all he did when I opened the door was smile and gesture me over to him.

"It's going to be difficult for me to teleport two, especially over such a distance. Come closer. Yes, that's better." Unexpectedly, he put his arms around me and drew me against him. I found myself blushing.

"Isn't this a little much?"

"Not if you want to get there in one piece. It's easier for me to manipulate things I'm touching, remember? Now, I hope this works..."

It wasn't like one of Rubius's teleports. When I was traveling with the red-head, he barely dipped into nonspace long enough for me to feel the chill, no matter how great the distance. Sapphire and I, on the other hand, seemed to hang in the blackness forever. It was colder than the Doom Phantom's heart, and twice as dark and empty.

I was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to get out again when there was a lurch, and light exploded around us. I immediately buried my face in Sapphire's shirt.

"I never imagined that the sun could possibly be this bright," my blue-haired -- friend? Was that all we still were? Just friends? -- whispered in awe. "It hurts a bit, but it's very beautiful."

I blinked, and forced myself to raise my head, shading my eyes. I was confronted with the spectacle of the sun glinting off crystal facets, far below us. We were on a rooftop, and...

"Sapphire, are you crazy? This is Crystal Tokyo!"

He shrugged. "I've never been to Earth before, remember? I wasn't quite sure where we would come out. The magic here drew me, I think. And anyway, you're the one who said that we should be perfectly safe so long as we don't approach the Palace, right?"

"I never said that!" I protested, but Sapphire was ignoring me and looking down, over the edge of the roof.

"Prisma, is that a park?"

I leaned out for a better look. "I guess so. It's difficult to tell from this high up."

"I think I'd like to take a closer look."

"Why not?" I hadn't seen green grass or trees myself in what seemed like forever. And anyway, a walk in the park can be quite romantic, if you play it right.

A flicker of cold blackness, and we were down at ground level. Don't ask me how he managed to do it, but Sapphire had landed us in the shadow of a tree, in a little bush-walled nook that wasn't quite visible from any of the paths. A cool breeze rustled the leaves above and around us.

For the first time since we had arrived on Earth, Sapphire let me go completely, stepping back and kneeling down on the ground.

"So this is what grass really looks like." He plucked a single blade from the ground, tore it in half, and inhaled the scent. "Mmmm." Then he froze, staring at something tiny and yellow and half-hidden by a bush. A buttercup. He reached out, as though to touch it, but stopped before his fingers quite made contact.

"Sapphire?"

He didn't move.

"Sapphire? Are you all right?" Although there was nothing that I could do if he wasn't. I couldn't get back to Nemesis alone, and I didn't dare ask anyone here for help.

He shook his head, and seemed to wake up from a dream. "I'm fine. It's just..."

"... you've never seen a flower before, either?" I suggested.

"Actually, I have. There's a type of flower that grows on Nemesis, or used to. One of the first settlers used his magic to adapt it. But there were never many of them, and they were getting harder and harder to find even when my parents were children." His hand, still frozen near the buttercup, twitched. "I found one, once. Diamond was with me. It's one of the last happy times that I remember with him, before our uncle started getting so depressed and Wise Man took over Diamond's education. We talked... We talked about bringing our people back to Earth..." He lowered his hand to his side, where it curled into a fist. "Gods of Darkness, I miss Diamond so much! Damn Wise Man for taking him away from me!"

I knelt beside him, deliberately placing my hand on his thigh. "Sapphire, I know you love your brother, and I'll do anything in my power to help you get him away from Wise Man, but he's out of your reach now, and I'm here, and... Oh, damn it all, I don't know what I'm trying to say!"

"That's all right." Sapphire rose to his feet, dislodging my hand in the process. "Come on. We've wasted enough time here, and I want to see more of Earth."

I scrambled up and linked my arm with his. He neither helped with that nor stopped me from doing it. Well, that was something, anyway.

We must have walked for hours that afternoon, first through the park, then exploring the streets of Crystal Tokyo. It was a beautiful city, not at all like my own home in... Actually, I think I'd rather not talk about that. You know, we never did tell our parents what had happened to us. For all I know, Mom and Dad think we're dead -- assuming that either of them is still alive, that is.

But I wasn't thinking about that on that day all those years ago. In fact, I couldn't even remember my parents' faces. I was more interested in watching Sapphire, who was greeting each new sight with an innocent, almost childlike delight that was truly remarkable in someone who had grown up on Nemesis.

We stopped at a little cafe for tea. Fortunately I'd brought my life's savings to Nemesis with me, and then had nothing to spend them on, so we had close to a hundred thousand yen with us. I'd spent a little as we had wandered past a row of small shops -- sunglasses were a necessity here, for eyes accustomed to the perpetual night of the Dark Moon -- but there was still enough, I reflected wistfully, for a really good dinner, and to pay off the cover charge for a club afterwards. If Sapphire would agree to either, that was.

"Hey, Sapphire! Prisma! Didn't expect to see you two here. How's it going?"

Sapphire and I exchanged baffled glances as the blonde young woman approached us.

<<Do you know her?>> the Nemisian prince asked.

I shook my head slightly.

<<Neither do I, although she does look vaguely familiar, but she seems to recognize us, and I don't get the impression that she's hostile. Play along, and try not to say too much.>>

"We're fine, thanks," Sapphire said aloud. "How are you?"

"Oh, I'm great." The girl pulled out a chair and seated herself beside me without so much as asking permission to join us. "Sunglasses, Sapphire? But I guess the light here must be hard on you. So, what's the latest scoop on this secret project of your boss's that everyone keeps mentioning with veiled hints? I heard you'd been drafted as a consultant. Something about containment wards?"

"I'm really not at liberty to talk about any of that. So tell me, Mina, how are things at the Palace?"

I stared at Sapphire and mouthed, Mina?

He shook his head slightly. <<I'll explain later.>>

"Oh, same old, same old. I get to stand around in high heels all day and watch the movers and shakers move and shake if y'know what I mean. Kind of boring, sometimes. Still, I prefer that over the times when my job gets exciting."

Sapphire nodded, then hesitated and glanced over at a convenient clock, visible through the window of the cafe. "Look, we have to get going. It was nice talking to you."

"Yeah, I guess they keep you hard at work, don't they? I'll see you around, then."

She waved companionably at us as we left the sitting area, arm in arm once more.

"You do realize that we've stiffed her with our bill," I muttered to Sapphire as soon as I felt we were out of earshot. "Oh, never mind," I added when he gave me a confused glance. Poor guy has never had to deal with a bill in his life. "So, who was she, and what was that all about?"

"I'm not sure." <<If I'm right, her name is Mina Aino-Tsumeta, although most people know her better as Sailor Venus. As for what she was doing, I haven't the faintest idea. Playing with us, I'd assume. Maybe some sort of veiled warning -- "We know who you are, and where you live." Or...>>

"What?"

<<I wish I knew. You know I'm not very good with people, but even a blind deaf-mute would have been able to tell that there was something very weird about that conversation. I'd almost think she'd mistaken us for someone else, except that "Sapphire" and "Prisma" can't be very common names around here.>>

"Maybe we'd better go... home."

"Home," Sapphire muttered, and shook his head. <<I'm not sure that I know what the word means.>> "No, let's stay and look around for a little while longer."

I stopped in my tracks and stared at him. Was that Sapphire talking? The cautious, meticulous, always-planning, almost paranoid man I thought I'd grown to know could never make such a suggestion.

He'd stopped a half-step after I had, and gave me a glance and a wry smile.

"Well, I'm never likely to get another chance," he said. "When Diamond hears about that little conversation that we had, he's going to forbid any of us to come back here unless it's on official business, something which I'm never likely to have any of." His smile widened. "Emerald is going to be so disappointed to lose all of those shopping bonus points."

I snickered. "Well, when you put it that way..."

I started to relax again after the first half-hour, when no vicious marauding Sailor Scouts showed up to herd us into the dungeons that had to lie somewhere under the Crystal Palace. By then, I was starting to get hungry for something a little more substantial than tea, and when I spotted a decent-looking little restaurant, I persuaded Sapphire that we needed to go inside.

You've never seen shock until you've had the opportunity to watch a Nemisian have his first encounter with Thai cooking. Sapphire innocently ordered one of the hottest things on the menu, and when he took his first bite, I thought flames were going to start shooting from his mouth. But I should have known better. His eyes did open really wide, though, and he drained half his water glass in one gulp.

"This takes a little getting used to, doesn't it?" he said in a rather strangled voice.

I laughed. After a moment, he started laughing with me, although the familiar lingering sadness never quite vanished from his eyes. I had the feeling that it never would, unless we could get rid of Wise Man, and free his brother.

Yes, I guess I was starting to plan a future with Sapphire, even then. Even though we'd barely touched and never kissed, and I wasn't sure that he could ever see me as anything more than just a friend. And I couldn't see myself ever being with anyone else.

After we'd finished eating, I led him to the club I'd spotted a couple of doors down. To my surprise, the guy at the door didn't try to stop us, even though we were a bit scruffily dressed -- Sapphire with his headband and faint grass stains on his knees, and me in my long skirt and sensible shoes. Maybe it was Sapphire's presence. He has the Crystal Weaver charisma, even though it expresses itself more quietly in him than it did in Diamond or Rubius.

He stopped dead right inside the doorway, and I barely managed to stop myself from plowing into him.

"So many people," he murmured.

Well, I suppose it must have seemed that way to him, given the size of the Nemisian population. To my eye, the club wasn't especially crowded, but to him, it must look packed.

"Why don't we dance?" I suggested, to get his mind off it before he started getting claustrophobic.

"Prisma, you know I don't..."

"... do all that badly," I finished for him. As though on cue, whoever was manning the sound system struck up a slow number. "I think you can handle this one."

Ignoring his protests, I pulled him out onto the dance floor. Once he stopped arguing and started dancing, he did all right.

As the song continued, members of the other couples around us were drawing closer and closer to their partners. I didn't dare press myself up against Sapphire the way some of the other women were doing with their men, because I'm not such a great dancer myself, and I didn't want to step on his feet. To my surprise, he was the one who drew me in toward him, somehow managing to avoid getting our feet tangled. By the time the music ended, we'd progressed from dancing to embracing.

Does this mean... ? I looked up into Sapphire's eyes, but as usual, I couldn't read anything there but a gentle melancholy. One way to find out, I guess.

I rose up on my toes and pressed my lips against his.

His eyes went wide with surprise for the second time that evening. Then the sadness cleared completely out of them, and for an instant, I saw something like a blaze of glory there as his mouth softened and his hands rose to the nape of my neck.

I'd kissed guys before, but Sapphire made something gentle and tender and exquisite of an act that I'd never much enjoyed with anyone else. In that moment, I became unshakably certain that yes, this was the one I wanted.

"I love you," I whispered when we parted.

"And I think I love you, too." There was such a strange note in his voice -- something like awe? "I've never felt like this before. Ever. But..."

I sighed. "How did I know there was going to be a catch?"

"Because you've lived on Nemesis, I suppose. If only for a week or so. If there's anything on the Dark Moon that's wonderful and good and doesn't carry a price with it, I haven't found it yet." That familiar, wry smile flickered across his face. "In this case, the catch has to do with the fact that you're human, and I'm... not. I don't want to be apart from you, but I also don't want to give part of my heart to you and then see it destroyed when you die. I wish it was possible to adopt you into our family, but Wise Man would never allow it."

"Why not?" I asked.

Sapphire made an odd noise that wasn't quite a laugh. "There are two reasons. The first one, and the only one he'll admit to, is that we've been breeding for generations for stronger magical power. He won't want to pair the two of us because you don't have the right genes. The other is a little more insidious. Wise Man doesn't like people that he doesn't control. He tolerates me because he doesn't think I'm capable of threatening him, but if you were one of us, you might develop some kind of real power, and that would threaten him. Look, I really don't think that this is the best place to discuss this. Will you come with me?"

I shook my head and started, realizing that we were standing together in a dark corner at the edge of a dance floor talking about Nemisian politics. If that wasn't stupid, I don't know what was.

"Lead the way," I said.

We walked out into the not-darkness of the Earthan night, and then exchanged it for the deeper night of nonspace. When we emerged from the teleport, I could tell from the feeling in the air that we were back on Nemesis, but I also knew that this wasn't a part of the Dark Moon that I was familiar with.

We were standing outside a pair of huge, ornate double doors cast from what looked like, but surely couldn't be, pure silver. Sapphire raised his hands and pressed a series of points on their gleaming surfaces, and there was a clicking sound, followed by a sharp crack! as the portal began to open inwards and a soft, multicolored glow leaked out onto the threshold. I wasn't sure that I wanted to go inside, but Sapphire took me by the elbow and led me forward.

It wasn't the huge room that I had been expecting -- in fact, it was barely big enough to accommodate the gigantic silver doors. But it wasn't the size that I noticed first. It was the crystals. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of them, of every color of the rainbow, strewn all over the shelves that lined the room. They were of all different shapes, ranging in size from a bit smaller than the tip of my little finger to almost big enough to fill my palm, and every single one of them glowed. The room required no light beyond what they shed.

"Sapphire, what is this place?" I asked.

"The Repository of Souls. Our history, you might say. This world's most closely guarded secret. And more. Don't -- don't ever -- tell anyone else that you know about this place. If you do, they'll probably kill you."

"I don't understand. Why?" I reached out toward one of the shelves, but Sapphire grabbed my wrist and forced my hand down.

"Each of those crystals is a fragment of a Nemisian's soul," he explained. "There's one for every one of us who's lived here since we were exiled from Earth, and some that are even older than that. Destroy one of those crystals, and you damage the owner's soul. It's usually fatal. I've given you the power of life and death over all of us, Prisma."

I was speechless. He trusted me that much?

"Is one of them yours?" I asked, at length.

He nodded. "Just a moment."

It was on a shelf at the far end of the room, a disk-shaped deep blue crystal, perhaps an inch in diameter. Sapphire held it up for my inspection, hesitated, then placed it in my hand and wrapped my fingers around it, tensing as though he was anticipating some sort of pain. Then, all at once, he relaxed again, and smiled.

"I guess I made the right choice after all," he said.

I shook my head, bewildered. "I don't understand."

"You could call it the ultimate compatibility test." He gripped my hand tightly in both of his. "If, say, Emerald laid so much as a fingertip on my crystal, it would feel much the same to me as if she'd walked up to me and shoved her hand into my pants." He didn't blush. He was a Nemisian, after all. "If Wise Man did the same, it would be an order of magnitude worse."

"Like spiritual rape," I suggested, although I still didn't quite understand. I never can understand, I think. Normal people don't have to walk around with bits of their souls exposed.

He nodded. "Very much like. But when you touch it... Oh, I don't know. I guess I just like the feeling of being in intimate contact with you."

"A test." I shook my head. "You never do anything without hedging your bets, do you?"

"Caution is a survival trait here, for someone as weak as I am."

"You're not weak! In fact," I added, in a more subdued tone of voice, "I think you're one of the strongest people I've ever known."

"I have little usable magic, and that's the only kind of strength that matters here."

Thoughtfully, I looked down at the crystal that still rested in the palm of my hand, its light tinting my skin blue. I shook my head.

"You're wrong -- I know you're wrong -- but I don't see how I can ever convince you of that."

His hand rose to brush against my cheek. "I wish I could see myself through your eyes, Prisma. You're the only person that I've ever known who values me so highly, except..."

I forced myself not to flinch. I knew what name Sapphire had been about to speak. Except him.

Diamond.

Damn it all.

"Trust me, Sapphire," I breathed, "no one can possibly value you as highly as I do."

I had to stand up on tiptoe again in order to kiss him, but it was more than worth it.

"I don't ever want to let you go," he said when we parted at last. "Damn it all, I am not going to let you go." The expression of firm resolve that had taken over his face made him look more like his brother than I would have thought possible. His hand locked around mine again, imprisoning the blue crystal that I still held within a cage of flesh. "I'll talk to Diamond. I know he'll agree to help us, Wise Man or no Wise Man."

"Help us with what?" I asked, confused.

"Help us bring you into the family, of course. I'd do it myself, but I don't know how."

"If you feel that's best." I still didn't understand what he was talking about. It wasn't until years later that I realized I'd come that close to betting my life on Prince Diamond's ability to turn me into a Crystal Weaver. Sometimes I even wonder what it would have been like if they'd managed to pull it off. I suppose I'd still be imprisoned in a crystal somewhere in the Negaverse, awaiting rebirth.

It's funny how things work out sometimes.

The next important scene in my personal history wasn't something that I was actually present for. I managed to piece it together, years later, from things my sisters said that Rubius had said, and Sapphire filled in the gaps for me, although prying the information out of him wasn't easy.

It took my future husband three days to convince his brother to grant him an audience. Oh, he could have slipped into Diamond's private quarters any time he wanted to, I suppose, but he wanted to make an official request, and that could only be done during an official audience. And so they met in the throne room. There were no Droid guards, no spectators at all except Rubius, who as my teacher could be considered an interested party, and the Wise Man -- Diamond valued and trusted his brother that much, at least. I've often wondered if the pale Prince would have been quite so fond of his little brother if Sapphire had been his equal or superior in terms of magical strength... but that isn't something I'm ever going to be able to test.

In any case, Sapphire walked into the room, precisely on time, and knelt in front of the throne. "Your Highness."

"Sapphire." Diamond was sitting on his throne, and, I would assume, swirling a glass of that noxious red stuff that passed for wine on Nemesis. "State your request."

"Your Highness is no doubt aware that I have been spending a considerable amount of time recently with Prisma Ayakashi." Although it wasn't considerable enough to satisfy me, especially since Sapphire refused to touch me in the ways I craved. My husband is probably the closest thing to a prude that Nemesis has ever produced. "It is my belief that she would be an excellent addition to our Family. I ask that she be raised to our status."

"Do you, now." Diamond probably sipped his wine just then. I do know that he glanced at Rubius and the Wise Man, who were standing together to the left of his throne, because Sapphire noted that detail and repeated it to me. "Sapphire, I trust your judgment, but I think this is a bit premature. The sisters have been with us such a short time that it is difficult to judge their abilities or, most especially, their loyalty. They have not yet entered into battle against Crystal Tokyo."

Sapphire tells me that that's when he realized that his brother had already made up his mind -- or had it made up for him.

"There will be time to speak of their elevation after they have proven themselves," Diamond continued.

"You didn't ask Lapis to prove herself!" Even Sapphire admits that it was a stupid thing to say, and that what he said next was even stupider. "Are we only taking in Wise Man's pets, now?"

Diamond's expression clouded over. "Sapphire --"

"Prince, it would appear that your brother is overwrought," Wise Man interrupted. "Perhaps he should return to his rooms to rest."

Even Sapphire wouldn't talk about what happened next, except to say that things went from bad to worse and he ended up storming out in a huff, trying to preserve the shreds of his dignity. Diamond had promised him that they'd adopt me in when the war with Crystal Tokyo was over and I'd proven myself. But Sapphire didn't believe him. Furthermore, he knew he'd attracted Wise Man's attention to me in a negative way, and he set out to make me safe the only way he thought he could.

"Prisma, I'm sorry, but I don't think we can see each other anymore."

I stared at him, speechless. Remembering it now, I can almost find it within myself to laugh; Sapphire, all unwitting, had managed to choose precisely the same words to break up with me that Darien always used to use on Serena, back before they were married, and long before they became King and Queen of the Earth. But at the time, I wasn't aware of the joke, and wouldn't have found it funny if I had known.

The look in his eyes should have registered on me but didn't. If I hadn't been so caught up in my own pain, I might have noticed that he was feeling like he was being flayed alive. But I was a silly young girl, and he was my first real love, and under those circumstances it was almost inevitable that I make a scene.

"And why is that?" I snapped.

He shivered, as though he wanted to flinch, but was too tired. Or too afraid.

"Diamond doesn't want me to be with you. He seems to think that you've... corrupted me, somehow." Or driven me out of my mind. More unspoken words that I was too stupid to hear, but based on what I remember, I would bet that that was exactly the tack that Wise Man took.

"And you love your brother more than you love me." I could feel the Dark Crystal's power rippling through my mind, rising with my rage.

"I owe Diamond... everything." <<Prisma, please. Can't you see that I'm being torn apart inside? If you and Diamond don't stop pulling me in opposite directions, I think... I think I'm going to...>>

"Get out of my mind!"

I swear, I didn't mean to do more than slap him, but the Doom Phantom's power was too strong for me to control. There was a concussion of energies, and Sapphire was flung backwards, into a wall. It didn't hurt him, really -- like every other Crystal Weaver I've ever known, he has personal wards strong enough to protect him from low-level magic attacks -- but he was fighting mad when he rolled back to his feet, his eyes glowing brilliant blue. At that moment, I feared for my life. This wasn't the Sapphire I knew. This was Prince Diamond's closest blood relative, a powerful Crystal Weaver, and a killer.

Then he closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath, and when his lids parted again, no light showed between them.

"Prisma, get out of here. Now. Before I end up doing something we'll both regret."

I took the hint and ran. All the way back to my room. Then I sat down on the edge of my bed, panting, and stared at my hands.

How could everything have gone wrong, so quickly? A little while ago, everything had been so perfect, and then... I couldn't get the image of Sapphire's distorted, enraged face out of my head. Suddenly, everything had changed, and I wanted only to forget that we'd ever felt anything for each other.

I'd shoved the jewelry box to the back of the drawer, but it took me only a few moments to find it again. I opened it and extracted the earrings with shaking hands. First one, then the other. It took several tries to fit them into place. At first nothing happened. And then... it was like breathing in some dark vapour that shrouded my thoughts in blessed mist. Perhaps the demons do have something worthwhile to give mankind after all.

Oblivion.

The darkness cradled my poor battered mind in its embrace, soothing away the pain, drawing a veil across Sapphire's face. In fact, the next time I saw him, I barely recognized him. And he gave me a look full of such pain that, if I'd been myself, I would have flinched. He had seen what I had done, and understood that I no longer knew him.

It might have been kinder just to let him kill me.

I have no wish to remember the next four years, and all the cruel and unthinking things I did to Sapphire, my sisters, and myself, but certain things must be mentioned, I suppose.

After Sapphire and I spurned each other, I became Rubius's star pupil, even more so than Katse. I threw all of my energies into preparing for the defeat of Crystal Tokyo. As for personal lives, well, I had none. There were brief affairs with a couple of young Nemisians who didn't survive the War, but those left me more disillusioned about men than ever. Even without the Doom Phantom's influence lying so heavily on me, I doubt I could have fallen in love again.

As for Sapphire, I think he gave in completely to despair, although he hates the memory of those years as much as I do. He forced himself to court Emerald at first, not because he truly loved her, but because she was his natural ally and he preferred to see Diamond go to her rather than Wise Man. Unfortunately, I think he threw himself so thoroughly into that illusion that it became his reality.

He had nothing else left.

I watched him, on and off, not understanding why or remembering that he had been important to me, only knowing that I needed to keep an eye on him. The excuse I used to myself was that he had his brother's ear, although Diamond, over time, seemed to pay less and less attention to Sapphire and more and more to Wise Man. I wonder what that cowled specter whispered to him when the rest of us weren't there to hear.

The war against Crystal Tokyo brought that agonizing period of watching and waiting to an end. The last thing I did before boarding the ship that would take me away from Nemesis was spit on the grey, dusty soil of the Dark Moon. Maybe the bacteria in my saliva would make the despised planetoid a little less sterile.

I don't know how many people I killed after we touched down on Earth. Like the others, I had dozens of Droids under my command, and fought a desperate urban battle against the Royal Guard and King Malachite's youma. To be honest, there weren't enough Guards to put up much of a fight, and Crystal Tokyo had mostly disbanded its regular army after the Wars of Unification, but the Negaverse troops were formidable, and I was as surprised as anyone when the enemy forces suddenly just... vanished. Of course, having witnessed the war from the other side, I now know that Malachite's withdrawal was deliberate. He had to let events proceed as we knew they had before, or risk a dangerous paradox as the timelines became tangled. Assuming that Sailor Pluto would have let him derail events at all, that is. Now there's a fight I would like to see. Talk about the Irresistible Force meets the Immovable Object...

I'm going off on a tangent, aren't I? I guess I still hate remembering the Dark Moon War. I did some horrible things back then, some of them to people who are now my friends. We all did, even Sapphire, who wasn't directly involved in the fighting. He never talks about it, but I do know that he conducted a particularly ghoulish experiment on the bodies of two of his distant cousins who were killed in the fighting, preventing them from disintegrating and infusing them with enough magical force to turn them into Droids. He gave them to Emerald, who was extremely taken with them and named them Doom and Gloom. I think it amused her to give them orders -- Rhodochrosite, especially, had never been afraid to speak his mind where his opinion of her intelligence was concerned.

But as I said, Malachite withdrew his troops, and Wise Man used the Dark Crystal to slap a freeze spell on the enemy city, and my sisters and I were sent back to the past with Rubius to find Rini and the Silver Crystal. And then Serena rescued us, one by one.

I remember wandering off that bridge, half-supported by Katse, after I was healed by the power of the Silver Crystal. It was the first time in years that I'd been able to think clearly about anything, and the memories... the memories were sickening. But the one that hurt more than any other was the memory of Sapphire's face, the sound of his voice as he'd told me that we had to part ways. For the first time, I could see it, the pain he'd been in, and I hated myself for my unthinking, selfish reaction.

"Prisma, you're crying! Are you all right?"

I tried to smile at my big sister, but I know it can't have been convincing. "It's been a very long, very emotional day, Katse. I'm just tired, that's all."

You were just a kid! I told myself. It was only a silly crush. You'll find someone else, and soon.

I repeated those words over and over again in my mind, trying to convince myself that they were true. Under other circumstances, it might even have worked.

Then I saw him again, and all my hard work was undone.

We'd all gone out to gawk at the Dark Crystal, just like any other humans who didn't know what it was for, but the conversation we were having as we looked at it was very different from those taking place around us. I expressed the appropriate horror at the thought of being dragged back to the future to re-enter the war against Crystal Tokyo, but deep inside me, some traitorous shred of my soul wondered if it might not be for the best. At least that way, I'd have a chance to see my blue-haired prince again, and apologize, and ask him why.

Then I did see him. At first, I thought I was wrong, that wishful thinking had led me to mistake some ordinary human for Sapphire, but I would have known him anywhere, even in the dark. Even injured and staggering as he was.

I didn't realize that I'd spoken his name out loud until I heard Avery say, "Are you kidding?" But by the time her words registered with me, I was already moving forward. My only thought, upon seeing him in pain, was that I wanted to ease it.

My heart leaped into my throat when I found him lying unconscious in the park. For an instant, I thought that he was already dead. But then I saw his chest rise and fall as he took a shallow breath.

I had to bully my sisters into helping me get him home. We had to take turns carrying him. It's a good thing that Sapphire isn't such a big man, or we would never have made it. Then I cleaned him up and tucked him into my bed, and tried not to listen to the others talking outside the door. It was obvious that they thought I'd completely lost my mind, and I wasn't so sure that I didn't agree with them.

I kept vigil by his bedside for hours, carefully not asking myself why. It wasn't until his color improved and his pulse strengthened that I dared leave him for a few minutes. I remember running what I remembered about treating magical shock and exhaustion through my head over and over again. Keep him warm, yes. Food, as soon as he would take it, so that he could replenish the energy that he'd lost.

I went to the kitchen to fix something. After all, I needed to eat myself, and if he woke up, he could share it with me. Still, when I re-entered the room, I just about dropped the tray on my foot.

"Where am I?"

Seeing him awake and aware so soon... that was a good sign, if I remembered correctly.

"Hey, there." Dry mouth, sweaty palms... I felt like I had on my first date with Ken, when I was fourteen. "You're awake, Sapphire. Here's some food." Damn, I was babbling! Stop that.

"Prisma, is that you?"

Had I really changed so much?

"Yes." I couldn't force out more than the single, bald word.

"Where am I?" he repeated.

"My room," I said, walking over to seat myself beside him, and placing the tray conveniently near.

"So this is where you and your sisters have been living ever since you betrayed us, Prisma."

I hadn't given any thought, when I had brought him back here, to the idea that he might be the one sent to drag us back to the future. On the face of it, it seemed ludicrous -- send a man who didn't have the magical power to serve as a soldier on a solo kidnapping mission? But if they were desperate enough, wasn't that exactly what they would do? Send the expendable one? And if he were injured, as Sapphire had been, well, just as well that they hadn't sent anyone valuable, right?

It seemed exactly like what Wise Man would do.

"I'm ready to accept the penalty," I said. "But... just take me. I beg you to forgive my sisters! It was all my idea." Lying to save them... maybe part of my mind and heart always would belong to the Dark Moon.

Unexpectedly, Sapphire laughed. "You don't have to worry. Believe me, Prisma, I'm not here as an executioner."

We said other things, little, unimportant things, until we both ran out of words.

Silence. We stared at each other uncomfortably. I think we both wanted to bring up the subject of why, but neither of us quite had the courage.

"How is your brother?" I asked at last.

Sapphire closed his eyes, and a shudder ran through him. "He's lost, even though he doesn't realize it. Wise Man has been lying to him all along, but Diamond has been too caught up in conquering the Earth to notice -- and that silly crush he has on Neo-Queen Serenity isn't helping matters."

"I'm sorry." It sounded horribly inane, but what else was there to say?

"It's my fault." Then he looked up at me, and I couldn't read the expression in his eyes. "I have the evidence now, Prisma! I know what the Wise Man is up to. But I didn't cover my tracks carefully enough, and he caught me and did this to me before I could warn my brother. I have to talk to Diamond!"

He began to struggle with the blankets, trying to swing his legs over the edge of the bed, but I pushed him back against the pillows. Gently. I wasn't sure, but in my inexpert opinion, he had at least one cracked rib, and I didn't want to make it any worse.

"Save your strength," I told him. "You need to rest and eat. Maybe if you do, you'll be able to use your magic to contact Diamond."

He shook his head. "It'll be days before I'm back up to anything approaching full strength. But I suppose I might as well eat. It can't hurt. And maybe while I do, you can tell me about Earth."

And so we talked. And talked. And talked. Sapphire has always had an insatiable appetite for information, and I was doing my best to answer every question he asked. As we spoke, he absently put food into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed.

"...I get this wonderful, peaceful feeling inside," I ended, "knowing that we can live by trusting and caring for each other."

Sapphire got the oddest look on his face. He was staring at the wall, but obviously not seeing it. I think it may be just as well that I don't know what he was seeing.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

He shook his head a little. "I must see Diamond! Now!"

I didn't understand what it was that had suddenly made this so urgent, but I wasn't able to stop him from getting up, or argue him back into bed, despite his being almost too weak to stand. I didn't want him to leave me again, and I especially didn't want to do it before I could ask him why.

"Sapphire, I don't want to lose you again." The words came tumbling out, despite the fact that I still didn't know whether or not he still wanted me. I couldn't tell whether my grip on him was an attempt to support him or restrain him -- perhaps a bit of both? "If you go to see Prince Diamond now, you'll be in terrible danger." Tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt like an idiot, but I couldn't stop. "You might lose your life! Oh, Sapphire..." ... I love you...

"Prisma, there's no other way. Just think. If you were in my position, and your sisters were in great danger, wouldn't you try to help them? You know that Prince Diamond is my only brother, and I have to protect him. Please, Prisma. Don't worry. I'll make him listen to me."

I couldn't tell him that the problem wasn't that I didn't understand. The problem was that I wanted him for myself.

"If Wise Man doesn't get to him first," I said.

"I don't care if he does." When had he put his arms around me? I hadn't even felt them until he squeezed me gently. "I have to do this, or die trying."

"So Diamond really is the most important person in your life." I pulled away from him, relieving him of my support, and hardening my heart when he swayed on weakened legs. "Tell me, Sapphire, what was I to you? Just something to pass the time while you weren't with your brother?"

He looked stricken. "No, of course not! Prisma, I love you, but... Oh, how can I say it? What I share with Diamond is more than love or hate or any other simple emotion. He's the sun, and I'm the shadow. Without him, I cease to exist."

I snorted. "That's one of the silliest things I've ever heard. You're a complete person in and of yourself. Why won't you believe that?"

"Because I know that you're wrong. But..." He staggered forward, a step, two, and took me into his arms again, then bent his head.

It was the first time he'd ever kissed me of his own free will. I clung to him until we were both short of breath.

"I will always love you," he whispered as we separated. "But it's Diamond who's in danger, not you. I have to see him, Prisma."

"I know." Unshed tears made my eyes burn as I forced myself to let him go. "Here, let me find a shirt for you. The one you were wearing was completely ruined by all that blood. I left your jacket hanging just inside the door --"

Unexpectedly, he reached out and touched my arm. "Prisma. As soon as I talk to him, I'll come back to you. I promise."

"Sapphire..." There were no other words. Instead, I found a shirt for him, helped him to the door of our apartment, took his jacket off the hook where I had hung it. He accepted it, but made no move to put it on. Then his expression twisted slightly, and he pushed the crystal-encrusted garment back into my hands.

"Keep my jacket until I return..."

Accepting it, and then watching him pass through the doorway, going, I suspected, to his death, was one of the hardest things I'd ever done in my life. As soon as he shut the portal between us, I took myself and the jacket out to the balcony, where there were no other reminders of his presence, and my sisters might let me have some privacy.

I stood there for what seemed like hours, holding it, crying into it sometimes, remembering every minute the two of us had spent together, and wishing that it might have been different. Dimly, I think I heard my sisters calling someone on the phone, but I wasn't paying attention. My attention was completely focused on him.

Eventually, I forced myself to go inside, to hang his jacket up and begin to tidy my room. If somehow, impossibly, everything did go right and he lived to come back to me, I wanted everything to be perfect.

I don't remember what I was doing when I felt it. I'm pretty sure I was going to fetch something on the other side of the room, or maybe out in the hall, but I completely forgot what it was the moment Wise Man blasted Sapphire.

There was a connection between us, and it had somehow survived my cleansing by the Silver Crystal to bring me news of his death.

<<Prisma, I'm sorry.>> With the words came a little stab of pain, as though someone had inserted a needle into my head, just behind the ear. And then... nothing. A terrible ringing silence, an emptiness that should have been full.

I grabbed his jacket off the floor, barely noticing that it had fallen off the hangar, and fled the room.

It was hours before I could form a coherent thought, or express what I was feeling.

"Sapphire, wherever you are, you'll live in my heart forever. I'll always remember that smile of yours. Too bad it was your last..."

But it didn't end there. I don't know what god stretched out its hand and gave us another chance at happily-ever-after, but if I ever find out, I'm going to sacrifice something hideously expensive to him/her/it. Maybe a bottle of that perfume Avery was flaunting the other day...

I remember the disbelief that I felt when Cuprite put the note in my hand. I still have that piece of paper, truth be known. Well, it's closer to parchment, really -- a heavy, coarse, grey stuff that the youma make out of mushrooms, with Sapphire's summons splayed across it in black ink. I don't think I really believed until I entered that little room somewhere in the bowels of Beryl's old palace, and saw that head of tousled blue hair, pillowed on the owner's arms where he sat at his desk, sound asleep.

The Cuprite shook his shoulder, and he woke and smiled at me.

"Prisma? I'm sorry, I must have fallen asleep again."

I had frozen. I choked trying to say his name, and then stood rigid, embarrassed, as his smile faded.

"Prisma?" he said again.

I finally managed to get it out. "Oh, Sapphire!" And I threw myself into his arms as he stood up, almost giving us both concussions.

I think Cuprite excused himself while I was working Sapphire's jacket open, but I don't remember for certain. The two of us only had eyes for each other. We didn't speak, only touch. There was no time to waste on trivial things like conversation.

It was a narrow bed, but we managed somehow.

Afterwards, I lay half on top of him and half beside him, both of us slick with sweat despite the perpetual cold of the Negaverse's atmosphere.

"I never dared hope that you would be free, and we could be together," I said.

He smiled, but his eyes still held a familiar melancholy. "Free? Not really." And he waved a hand at the discarded clothing lying on the floor. Grey. I hadn't noticed the color of his jacket and trousers while I'd been stripping them off him, but now it registered with a jolt that he'd been wearing a familiar uniform.

Sapphire was a General. Sworn to King Malachite of the Negaverse.

"Why?" I asked.

A soft, breathy, pained laugh. "Realistically, what choice do I have? With magic bred into me and burning in my bones, even if I can't use it properly? I hate to admit it, but this is where I belong, not in the human world. Don't worry, I've been assured that it's going to be purely a nine-to-five job. We'll have plenty of time together -- if you still want me, that is."

"Don't you ever doubt that," I said fiercely, and kissed him.

So King Malachite pronounced us married, we registered our marriage on the Crystal Tokyoan side, except that it would be a few years before it was actually called "Crystal Tokyo", Sapphire took my surname, since he had none of his own, and the Negaverse funded our purchase of a little house in the suburbs. We could have had something larger and grander if we'd wanted it, actually, but I chose this place this place because it had such a big garden.

I wanted Sapphire to be surrounded by flowers and green, growing things, until they lost their bitter connotations for him.

Our daughter was born three years later. I still remember the stunned look on Sapphire's face when Almandite deposited Opal in his arms. By that time, he knew enough to be able to empower her himself. I wish that hadn't been necessary, but refusing Opal her heritage would have been cruel.

She, too, comes from a line bred for magic.

And so I lost my daughter to the Negaverse as well, when the time came. No, I'm not bitter. That surprises me, in a way. I should hate Malachite and the others, but I don't. Maybe it's because I still remember a time when magic flowed in my own bones and blood, and I understand that my husband and daughter need their own kind almost as much as they need me, and I them. I will give my son up, too, when the time comes. It's just the way of the worlds.

And I suppose that brings me up to where I am now: standing in the bathroom, talking to my haggard and disheveled reflection, or maybe to some unknown supernatural observer. I suppose it's just as well that Sapphire's asleep. It would be embarrassing if he caught me doing this.

I pad back to the bedroom, as silently as I can manage. Dawn is just bleeding a bit of pink and yellow into the sky outside our window, and by that faint light, I can see him lying there, splayed across the bed. Who would guess that Sapphire, so meticulous when he's awake, is such an untidy sleeper? He's flung the blankets half off himself again, baring his upper body. One of his feet is dangling over the edge of the mattress, one arm flung wide to cover my side of the bed, and the other bent so that his loosely-clasped hand is resting on his chest beside a white glowing thing like a fallen star.

Prince Diamond's spirit crystal.

Sapphire has never explained to me why he wears his brother's soul around his neck, and I've never asked. Perhaps it's because this way, he can finally look after Diamond and keep him safe. There's irony in that, I suppose, the weaker brother wanting so badly to protect the stronger. But it seems to reassure my husband, to bring him peace that he can't get from any other source, and so I don't ask, don't speak.

His eyes flicker open for an instant, then shut again, as I slide cautiously into bed beside him. I'm forced to lie on his arm, but he doesn't seem to care. Instead, he curves it around me as best he can, drawing me closer to him, and buries his face in a swatch of my hair. Diamond's spirit crystal is pushed up against my breast as he does so, and through the contact, I sense the indomitable spirit of the pale Prince, patiently awaiting rebirth. But I am ready for that, and brace myself for it, and after a moment, the sensation recedes into memory. No doubt there will come a day when Malachite will give the order, and some unfortunate youma convicted of what the Negaverse considers a capital crime will be brought out, and Sapphire will press the white crystal against its forehead... and Diamond will live again. I don't expect to be there to see it, though, and I will be just as happy never to have to confront the Prince of Nemesis again. We did betray him, after all, my sisters and I, and there is no reason for him to forgive that.

Sapphire smiles in his sleep, and shifts his free arm down so that his hand rests on my swollen abdomen. As though sensing his father's touch, the baby kicks, and I wince, then smile. More like his uncle, or maybe his Aunt Katse, than his father, this one. I can tell that much without even having seen him yet.

We've never spoken of names. Sapphire intends to preserve a tradition of the Dark Moon not followed in the Negaverse, and choose this child's name on the basis of the color of his spirit crystal, as we did for Opal. I just hope that, if his crystal is white, my husband doesn't insist on naming the baby Diamond. One of those was enough for one lifetime.

And so the four of us, the past, present, and future of what was the Dark Moon, drift off into sleep, illuminated by the blushing dawn outside the windows.

The End. Only about forty pages late. Oof.


Back to Dark Kingdom Home | E.Liddell's DK Stories | Stayka's DK Stories | Other DK Stories


This page belongs to Stayka's Dark Kingdom Home at http://www.dark-kingdom.de

© by E. Liddell - Email: eliddell@despammed.com

Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!